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Contact centers average a D+

A recent study found a significant gap between what customers think is important and what contact centers think.

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Contact centers aren't doing nearly as well as they think when it comes to meeting customer expectations. That's one of the conclusions of a recent contact center benchmarking study.

The Aspect Contact Center Satisfaction Index, released last week and conducted by Westford, Mass.-based Aspect Software Inc. and Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, a research firm and consultancy based in Chicago, gave contact centers a D+ for their overall grade, scoring 69 out of 100, based on 27 criteria. And while it may not be a surprise to see that the study concluded that the industry as a whole needs to improve its customer interactions, the study did offer some interesting results.

For example, the study found that contact center managers overestimate customer satisfaction with 90% believing they met or exceeded expectations. However, only 77% of customers agreed.

"The gap was pretty dramatic between customer expectations and what they experienced," said Margaret Mueller, research analyst at Leo J. Shapiro and Associates. "We did not expect the grade to be this low."

The study surveyed 1,000 consumers and 150 contact center professionals on 27 topics, including the knowledge of agents, the ability to speak with a person without a long delay and ease of access to a person from an automated menu.

Contact centers fared particularly poorly when it came to automation, receiving a D-, with a score of 61%. Customers preferred a technology that streamlines a connection to a human being rather than replacing it altogether.

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The disconnect between what contact center managers believe customers consider important and customer's actual concerns was profound throughout the results. For example, contact center managers place more weight on a consistent company image and providing follow-up to make sure an issue is resolved than customers do.

Also noteworthy were the proportion of contacts coming through e-mail. Of customer contacts with a company, 79% came via telephone, 18% via e-mail and 3% via online chat.

The study also found that when it comes to the attributes of call center agents, customers foremost wanted someone who is knowledgeable and informed.

"The thing that shocked me was how just much customers want that interaction," said Mike Sheridan, vice president of strategy and marketing at Aspect Software. "This impacts training and hiring, and there's an opportunity to ensure there's matching going on between calls."

Broken down by industry, the retail sector fared a little better than financial services and telecommunications, but the contact center industry as a whole still fared poorly.

"If this was a single client, they would be out of business," Mueller said.

There are some positive takeaways from the results. Sheridan said while many Aspect customers try to rationalize that it's not their own contact center that's hurting the overall grade, some were happy to see how poorly the industry is faring. It means there's room to differentiate themselves.

The report also indicated a few simple steps contact centers can take to improve customer satisfaction, Mueller said. They include:

  • Give callers an estimated wait time before they'll speak with a live agent.
  • Have a history of customers' calls and interactions with the company ready when they do come on the line.
  • Avoid asking customers to re-enter information, like asking for their account number multiple times.

    Another important result?

    "Almost half of the customers are at risk for switching companies," Mueller said. "The contact center 'is the company' for most of these customers."

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